Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Awkward Changing of the Guard

Markus Naslund, 12-year Canuck veteran, long-serving captain and record scorer jumped ship to the New York Rangers. An extremely durable player, Naslund never suffered a major injury but all the while his production had been in decline since 2004, when he tallied 104 points.
Naslund was 35 when he left the Canucks, so his production had been suffering since his 30th year. Some players, such as Chris Chelios or Joe Sakic manage to be elite-level players well past the 35-year mark, but it is hugely dependent on the style of game played. Naslund relies on his speed and agility whilst Chelios and Sakic are great thinkers of the game, whereas Naslund's playmaking ability, whilst nothing to be sneezed at, left something to be desired. Likewise, his leadership abilities have been called into question time and time again. It wasn't so much that Naslund was a bad influence, more that his manner was not commanding enough to stand out as a leadership force.
In steps Pavol Demitra, signed from the rival Minnesota Wild. Demitra is a more versatile, grittier, slightly younger replacement who likely will not be burdened with any official leadership responsibilities. As such, he has the playmaking ability Naslund lacked as well as a mindset that allows him to step away from finesse plays, whereas Demitra has no bones about winding up for a slapshot. Essentially, Demitra's style is much better suited to the Canucks, so to suggest that the Canucks only came out even in this loss of Naslund and acquisition of Demitra is purely a mathematical recognition. In Demitra, we have a player who wanted to play here and whose game should better stand the test of time.
From there on, people bemoan the fact that we let Brendan Morrison walk whilst only acquiring Steve Bernier as a top-six replacement. Morrison, whilst a durable two-way player had little else to offer. Indeed, he was something of a third wheel on the West Coast Express bicycle. It wasn't clear where he'd fit with the acquisition of another top-six centre such as Mats Sundin, so Morrison was allowed to sign in Anaheim. Moreover, Bernier is young, strong and right-handed, the holy grail linemate for the Sedin brothers.
Moreover, GM Mike Gillis has been saying that he'll leave some roster spots open to young guns such as Michael Grabner or Jannick Hansen. Both Morrison and Naslund were into their 30s, so neither fit the moneyball descriptors of talent, youth, speed, size and character that Gillis wants to build his team around. Admittedly Demitra is 33+ and Sundin, if he signs, would add 37 years to the age tally but both play timeless games and no-one doubts Sundin's leadership qualities. Furthermore, both would be on short-term contracts, more evidence to suggest that a youth movement is underway. As Barack Obama says, "Change we can believe in."

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